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Kasper Malone
 
Who's That Stranger?

George King & Associates, 2007

"Who's That Stranger?" is a 30 minute documentary about a remarkable musician, Kasper 'Stranger' Malone. At 95, Stranger holds the Guinness World Record for the longest recording career in history (1926—2005). When we shot the film in 2004 & 2005, he was still playing two or three gigs a week—often travelling alone by Greyhound Bus with all his instruments. As the baby boomers prepare to retire and many Americans come face-to-face with their own aging, this film presents an inspiring picture of vitality from someone who simply kept working, 30 years beyond retirement.

If anyone in the history of American music paid their dues, it was Stranger Malone. Starting out at age 15 in Kentucky and ending at 95 in Georgia, he played every musical genre, from early country music with Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, Lowe Stokes, and Clayton McMichen, to silent movie orchestras, radio orchestras, and cruise ships. He recorded jazz with Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Hunt, and Benny Goodman; cowboy swing with Gene Autrey; polka with Lawrence Welk; classical music with the San Francisco, Denver, and Tucson symphony orchestras; and folk and bluegrass in North Georgia. Fortunately, Malone possessed a remarkable memory and a terrific collection of still photographs to back it up. We see him on his first gigs playing for an auction house; in the merchant marine band; accompanying a flea circus; and playing clarinet, baritone saxophone, flute, cornet, tuba, sousaphone, and bass in every conceivable orchestra and combo.

In many respects, Malone was the quintessential sideman. He never sought stardom or personal success—he just loved to play music. As he says in the film, "I've played with some of the best and all of the worst." But the film does not focus on the past. We travel with Stranger as he plays flute, clarinet, and upright bass. He also sings—performing ballads and dance tunes from a bygone age and accompanying himself on guitar—which he taught himself to play at age 82.

Perhaps the highlight of the film is when Malone visits Jack Spence, a "78" collector who plays him records that he made in 1926 and '27—which Malone has never heard. Calmly, Stranger unpacks his clarinet and accompanies himself—brilliantly improvising a second clarinet part to mesh with his original recording. The collector is moved to tears.

Along the way we learn that Stranger has been a vegetarian for 35 years, that he re-trained his sight and has not used glasses since the 1950's, and we hear stories of the famous and infamous musicians that he played with over an 80 year professional career. We also hear from other musicians and his two daughters who describe the hardships of life on the road and the impact on the family.

Whether playing concert halls or senior centers, clubs or halfway houses, Malone's gentle humour, effusive energy, and contagious spirit will move audiences of all musical tastes anywhere he plays.



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